Local News

Friday, Jan 31 2014 07:57 PM

Less than zero? Water deficit a bitter pill but not unexpected in Kern

By The Bakersfield Californian

In Kern County, the state's news of a zero-percent water allocation this year was met with bitter disappointment but little surprise.

"I think the latest snow survey showed they would have a hard time holding on to 5 percent," said Eric Averett, general manager of the Rosedale Rio-Bravo Water Storage District. He referred to the state's earlier prediction that it could deliver at least a small fraction of the water that growers and cities throughout the state pay for each year.

Averett said that going forward, water managers will be looking to buy whatever supplies they can find.

That's not going to be easy.

Even northern counties, typically flush with water, are dry this year.

And the federal Central Valley Project, or CVP, has also pegged its anticipated deliveries at zero, according to a unofficial predictions.

If the dry weather continues, that could worsen. Yes, worsen from zero.

In an email, Steve Collup, general manager of Arvin-Edison Water Storage District wrote that, technically, the CVP system is now at in a "minus" situation. The snow pack would have to increase substantially to bring it up to zero.

"I can't believe I'm even typing this ..." Collup concluded.

Arvin-Edison is one of three districts in Kern that receive federal water through the Friant-Kern canal. Most districts locally rely on State Water Project water delivered via the California Aqueduct.

Given the widespread dry conditions, it's hard to imagine where farmers will find any "extra" water in the state.

"It's a catastrophic situation," agreed Jim Beck, Kern County Water Agency general manager. KCWA acts as a wholesaler delivering state water to 13 local water districts.

There is some "carry over water" that districts had begun socking away mostly in San Luis Reservoir last year. It amounts to several hundred thousand acre feet, Beck said, and will give water districts some flexibility.

"It's helpful, but when you compare it to the magnitude of water we normally receive, we're still in an extreme shortage and we still have a full-blown crisis.

As to what this will mean for growers, that has yet to be seen. Some have already said they are fallowing land or letting crops die.

Those facts are not lost on money markets.

"There's going to be much less money made in agriculture, if not some real losses," said Vernon Crowder, a senior analyst with Rabobank International's Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory group.

Though state water is used mostly by agriculture, some local municipal water districts and purveyors rely on it as well.

Oildale Mutual Water Company, for example, gets 95 percent of its water from the state, through KCWA, according to manager Doug Nunnely. Over the years, the agency has banked any surplus water "just for this situation," Nunnely wrote in an email.

He anticipated Oildale Mutual will pull more heavily on groundwater this year and use some of that banked water.

Despite the tight water year, he said Oildale Mutual doesn't plan to institute any mandatory water conservation measures.

The City of Bakersfield likewise relies on some state water through KCWA, but those supplies are minimal in comparison with its Kern River and groundwater supplies.

Bakersfield is not instituting mandatory conservation methods either, although Water Resources Department Director Art Chianello said the city is partnering with California Water Service to urge conservation and will be sending tips to residents in their bills over the next month or two.

Visit www.bakersfieldcity.us and click on "Save Our Water" to find out easy ways to conserve water indoors and outdoors.

-- Lois Henry and John Cox

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